Why the Republican Party doesn’t elect women

Really enjoyed this feature in 538, especially as it included the research of my co-author, Laurel Elder, who does cool research without me (the converse not proving true):

There has been a lot of buzz recently about the wave of women running for office in 2018. It’s record-breaking. But that’s not quite right. At least, it’s too broad.

There are a lot of Democratic women signing up as candidates and winning primaries, particularly for the U.S. House. So far this cycle, according to the Center for Women and American Politics at Rutgers University, 350 Democratic women have filed to run for the House, compared with 118 Republican women. Democratic women have won 105 House primaries, compared with just 25 by Republican women.

That pattern isn’t new. The overall male skew of Congress gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, but that skew looks very different in each party. There are almost three times as many Democratic women as Republican women serving in Congress — and November’s elections might exacerbate the disparity. A Democratic wave could both send many more Democratic women to Congress and also end the careers of several Republican female incumbents…

But this partisan gender gap isn’t just a 2018 thing. The overall gender gap in Congress is fueled and exacerbated by a more specific phenomenon: Few Republican women make it to Congress — or even run in the first place. You can’t understand — or change — Congress’s male bent without accounting for the dearth of GOP women, in particular, getting elected. And it’s not just Congress — Republican women are getting elected at lower numbers than Democratic women to state legislatures, a key stepping stone for people who eventually get to Capitol Hill.

“The Republicanism of a state’s electorate remains a strong, significant predictor of fewer women among Republican [state] legislators,” Hartwick College’s Laurel Elder wrote in an essay that was part of an anthology published this year called “The Right Women,” which chronicled the state of women in the GOP.

“This finding is stunning, as it suggests that the Republican Party itself and the increasingly conservative ideology it has come to embrace is the biggest barrier to women’s representation within the party,” she added.

Indeed, most of the progress toward gender parity in Congress that has been made over the last few decades is due to Democrats; the number of GOP women has increased, but not nearly as much.

And the ideological reality of the parties and of gender mean this will not be easy to overcome any time in the near future:

Women in state legislatures in both parties tend to be more liberal than their male counterparts, according to Thomsen’s analysis of their voting records. This puts female Democrats toward the left-leaning end of their party, while female Republicans are not in the rightward bloc of the GOP. “The ideologues are much more likely to run, and they are much more likely to be men. They are really unlikely to be Republican women,” Thomsen said.

“The research I’ve done suggests that the primary campaign is the toughest hurdle for Republican women to get through, and many do not run, knowing they will not make it through the primary — where voters tend to be far more conservative than the Republican Party at large,” said Shauna Shames, a political science professor at Rutgers who specializes in studying the role of race and gender in and politics.

And even if potential female GOP candidates are as conservative as their male counterparts, voters may think they are less conservative. “There is some scholarly evidence that voters tend to perceive female politicians as more liberal than men,” Hopkins said. “This perception makes it harder for women to win votes in Republican primaries when running against male opponents, because the ideological nature of the Republican Party leads its voters to treat the relative conservatism of the candidates as an important consideration in making electoral choices.”

It’s great that there are so many more Democratic women running, but if we want to get anywhere near 50% (and practically-speaking, I think 40% would be a great goal because it would fundamentally change the institution), we’ve got to get more Republican women, too.

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